In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

NY TimesMachine

Are you looking for primary sources for your students to use? Are you stumped at finding new places to get non-fiction historical text for your times-machinestudents? Do you need news articles for comparison and reflection?


Check out NY Times Machine!


We are currently doing a unit on the Civil War, and I can’t wait to show my students the actual news articles from when Lincoln was assassinated. We will compare the information here with what they have learned, dissect why it is somewhat different, and analyze how news is shared today (versus in 1865).


I’m really looking forward to using it for other learning objectives, such as…

– advertisements

– word choice

– spelling changes

– and more!


How do you see yourself using the NY Times Machine?







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Tra-Digital Revolutionary War Heroes

My students have been studying the American Revolution for the last few weeks, and we’ve had a blast. As we are wrapping things up, each student chose a historical figure from the war era to do more research about. Students researched their people and wrote essays about them. I partnered with the art teacher to have the students make puppets to represent the people they researched. They were amazing! Check out General George Washington and Paul Revere!

Over the weekend, my students are reworking the biographical components of their essays to be autobiographical because they are going to be recording their puppets telling about their lives, character traits and roles in the American Revolution. Thanks to a great presentation at DEN VirtuCon on Tra-Digital Story Telling , we got inspired! After we film the puppets on Monday, we are going to drop them onto different backdrops that represent the historical figures’ roles in the Revolution. I can’t wait to share them!

In the past, the fifth graders at my school had done something like a living wax museum, where students could choose anyone to represent biographically. We decided to go digital this year for a multitude of reasons this year, which didn’t necessarily have to be related to 21st century skills. We knew it would be difficult for our students to get costumes to represent characters from the war, and we didn’t want our boys or girls to be limited on their choices by their own genders. We also wanted a way to easily share our learning with our parents and community members. I am so excited to work through this project and share our results!



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Holiday Card Exchange Project

Are you looking for a great way to celebrate the holidays with your students, while making a variety of curricular and cultural connections? Check out PROJECTS BY JEN. Jen’s projects are always well organized and this one will be no exception. I love how she has included a component of service by having classes send a card to a children’s charity.

Be sure to make this a deep and meaningful project! Here are some other things you can do… 

  • Pin a Google Map with the places that you are sending cards to and where you receive them from
  • Have students research the places their letters are going
  • Students can calculate the distances that the letters are going to travel
  • Make Skype calls with the classes you are coordinating with to share about your schools
  • Make comparisons with the students in different schools
  • Students can generate a digital “ad” for their class to teach more about your area and share that link with your card.
  • Blog about the experience of exchanging cards
  • The possibilities are endless!

Thanks Jen for coordinating this awesome opportunity!

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Proverbs and Such

We are in the midst of a unit on the Revolutionary War with my fifth grade students. We are making cross curricular connections and blending our social students and english/language arts time. I’ve been collecting lots of resources and realized today that I just need to start sharing them here. I did a big unit on this last year, and my students loved it. The topic hasn’t really changed, but my approach has been modified some due to the changes in Common Core Standards for ELA. One of the things that we are hitting on right now is figurative language and reading across genres, so we are tackling proverbs. The Revolutionary War unit is perfect for this because some many of the proverbs and expressions that we use today originated with Ben Franklin. Here are a few of the resources that I have found…

ThinkQuest on Franklin’s life with a section dedicated to proverbs

Proverbs from Poor Richard’s Almanac

Proverbs and quotes from Franklin

Printable “Complete the Proverb” activity


I’m planning to discuss a few proverbs with my students, and then I’ll hand out papers to each of my student groups. Each paper will have a proverb on it, and they will have to explain what it means and give a modern expression that might be an equivalent. Here’s what they are doing!

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Experiment in Book Blogging

I am that mean mommy that makes my kids read every day all summer long. I know. It’s just not fair. In order to help turn summer reading into a bit of an adventure, I set my nine-year old twins, David and Tyler, up with a book blog. They titled it “David and Tyler’s Great Book Adventure.” I have been amazed at how excited they’ve been about the blogging, the comments they receive, and the pinpoints on their ClustrMap. At one point, Tyler even said, “They need to make us do this at school!”

I have done blogging with my students in the past, and I hope to develop it again at my new school this fall. I’m really liking how this is playing out with my boys, and I’m hoping that maybe I might take our classroom blog in a similar direction. As I get back into habits and develop new routines, focusing the blog on books might just be the direction we need to take.

If you are not blogging with your students, what would it take to convince you to start? Would David and Tyler convince you? Check out David and Tyler’s Great Book Adventure!

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Spelling Activities

I am loving this blog post from Mrs. Bainbridge’s Class where she shares her monthly spelling choice sheets. These are great and adaptable to anyone’s spelling list. They may be a bit “cute” for older students, but they will enjoy the activities – even if they don’t admit it. If nothing else, you could re-format the borders around the pages but still use the activities.

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Olympics Fun

I always love the years that the Olympics come around because they are such a great learning opportunity for children, the world over. This summer’s Olympic games will be completed before we head back to school, so I’m trying to find ways to bring them into the classroom anyways.



Some things I might try…


  • Math Olympics game at Math Playground
  • AIMS Math Events for Olympics
  • Have students create their own graphs of the final medal counts of different countries and compare, find range, median, mean and mode
  • Calculate the distances that different athletes traveled to get to the games in London


  • Divide up the class into country groups to research about different countries that entered the Olympics
  • Choose an Olympian to research. Create a timeline of the Olympian’s life.
  • Take a virtual tour of the Olympic village.
  • Research the first Olympics in Ancient Greece.
  • Watch the Time Warp Trio’s “My Big Fat Greek Olympics” and do related activities





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Early Literacy Resources




In the past few years, I have been working with teachers a lot on DIBELS assessments and then what to do with the information that they gather from their findings. I thought I’d share with you some of the websites that are my “go to” places for strategies, lessons and resources to address general and specific literacy needs, especially in the K-3 classroom.

Florida Center for Reading Research

  • To be honest, I can’t believe that resources on this site are free. The Instructional Resources section for teachers is AMAZING. There are hundreds of lesson plans and pre-made activities for students to address each of the strands of emergent literacy. I have downloaded and saved all of the PDFs for future reference because the activities are so good.




Free Reading

  • Free Reading is similar to the FCRR site because it offers lessons and activities that address the strands of reading and you can search by those strands.
  • Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Comprehension, Fluency, and Writing


Kathy Bumgardner Reading

  • I have to admit that the organization and layout of this site makes me a bit dizzy but the quality of the resources really makes up for the busy-ness.
  • I love the Think Clouds for my students to model and use metacognitive strategies while reading.
  • The fiction and non-fiction walks are also awesome.
  • In other words, just check it out!



The Reading Genie

  • So, this resource is really just a collection of more resources, but holy moly! You’re just going to have to hang out with the Reading Genie, but I especially love the tongue twisters section of this site.



Mrs. Perkins

  • Mrs. Perkins’ Dolch Words site has all of the dolch lists prepared in every format imaginable. It is such a time saver.
  • It’s also a great place to point parents to get the words to review with their kids at home!



  • With a name like “Sparklebox”, what isn’t there to love?
  • There are hundreds of interactive resources here that are perfect for whole group lessons or small groups. They are awesome in stations for individual students or on an interactive whiteboard.




Read Works

  • This site is new to me, but it looks great. I love how it is organized by topic and grade level. The material looks easy to navigate and easy to use with kids. I know what I will be doing this summer!
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Writing Prompts

Today, I spent the morning working on photo writing/discussion prompts to use with my students. I created a SMART Notebook file with ten prompts based on photos that I found through a Creative Commons Search on Flickr. I am pretty excited about using them with my students in the next weeks. I thought I’d share them with you all, so I created my first post on TeachersPayTeachers. You can download the file as a free pdf HERE. If you do download it and like it, I would appreciate a rating! I don’t know how much I will use the TpT platform, but I like how easy it is to share files this way. We’ll just call it an experiment for now 🙂


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What’s a Gibbit?

In another installment of What Good Readers Do, today we focused on using context clues to find word meanings. I gathered a collection of resources on using nonsense words to help my students practice this. During our 20 minute reading group station rotations, one spot today was at our SMART Board with me. I gave each student a half sheet of white copy paper, cut length wise. That sheet was then folded into thirds. On the SMARTBoard I had five different pages with nonsense words embedded in sentences that helped explain the word. I found some on this Quizlet. students wrote down the nonsense words in each box and their predictions of the word meanings. After we had gone through each of the five sentences, we reviewed them together, comparing answers and highlighting the clues from the text. Finally, I gave the students the word “gibbit.” I told them that “gibbit” could mean whatever they wanted it to mean, but they just had to write a sentence that would convey the meaning. It was a hoot. Some of my favorites included…


The man wore his gibbit on his finger after the wedding.

I put my gibbit on my head to protect it for the football game.

What in the gibbit happened to my car? (We giggled over this one, and this group had a great chat about how many words could go here – and how many of them weren’t appropriate for school. He revised the sentence a bit because gibbit meant “world.”)

We couldn’t believe believe how stinky the man was after he took his shoes off his gibbits.


On our bulletin board of Things Good Readers Do, I added a context clues section with the title “What is a gibbit?” We put some of the students sentences up, folded over so kids can flip up and check if their definitions match their peers sentences.

At the end of the day, we did a quick review as a whole group lesson using this manatee passage. The students then did an independent practice sheet that I graded to make sure they were getting the concept. They did great! And some of my students are even looking forward to reading the book Frindle by Andrew Clements.


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